Is Illinois setting a high bar for high school proficiency?

To be considered “proficient,” Illinois juniors will have to “earn a higher score on the SAT than the one that’s correlated with college readiness,” writes Catherine Gewertz in Ed Week.

The state board of education’s policy doesn’t affect students’ grades or graduation, she explains. But their high schools will lose points in the new accountability system if 11th graders score below 540 in English or math on the SAT.

The College Board, which runs the SAT, has set the college-ready score at 480 in English and 530 in math. “That means they have a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better in entry-level, credit-bearing college classes,” writes Gewertz.

Under the new plan, 20 percent of high schools’ academic rating will be based on their students’ SAT-measured proficiency.

In the first statewide administration of the SAT, in the spring of 2017, Illinois juniors averaged a 512 in English/language arts, so only 39.8 percent met the 540 cutoff score. In the math, their average score was 504. Only 36.4 percent met the SAT score cutoff.

Last year, the State Board of Education estimated that 46 percent of Illinois graduates were ready for college, but only 25 percent tested as college-ready, by ACT standards, in English, reading, math and science.

Twelve states now use the SAT or ACT as their accountability measure, writes Gewertz.

Delaware, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Michigan use the College Board’s readiness benchmarks.

Most states that use the ACT have set lower benchmarks.

ACT, which is scored on a 1-36 point scale, considers students college-ready with scores of 18 in English, 22 in math and reading, and 23 in science. In Louisiana, students are considered proficient if their composite score on the ACT is 21 or higher.

Nebraska . . . (set) the ACT score cutoff at 18 in both math and English, four points lower than ACT’s math college-readiness score, and two points below it in English.

. . . In Wisconsin, proficiency means an ACT score of 22 in math, the same level as ACT’s college-ready cutoff, and 20 English, a blend of ACT’s benchmarks for the reading and English portions of its exam. Wyoming set its proficiency scores at one point below ACT’s college-ready benchmark in math and one point above it English/language arts, according to the ACT.

Roughly 69 percent of high school graduates enroll in a two- or four-year college or university. Of those who go directly to college, 58.6 percent will complete a degree in six years. I think it’s because so many are poorly prepared for college work.


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Joanne Jacobs

Joanne Jacobs

Joanne was born in Chicago and named after her grandfather, Joe Jacobs, who’d been a police reporter for the Omaha Bee-News. At the age of eight, she and her best friend became the creators and co-editors-in-chief of "The Wednesday Report" for four years. After years as a San Jose Mercury News columnist, Joanne started an education blog in 2001 and wrote "Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds." She freelances for online sites, newspapers, magazines, foundations and think tanks. In addition to blogging at, Joanne writes Community College Spotlight at
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